One of the biggest changes in food systems in recent decades has been the widespread expansion of the intellectual property (IP) regime from seeds to trademarks to access to knowledge. This is having a major impact across the world in reshaping food systems and many large businesses involved. It has profound implications for the distribution of wealth and power in the 21st century.
In an interview in April 2018 on the Real News Network Professor, Peter Drahos, Professor of Law and Governance in the Law Department at the European University Institute, Florence, explains how China has been pushed into accepting IP rules by the USA. In the second half of the interview he explains more broadly why he feels this is a mistake and why ‘intellectual property fundamentally contributes to inequality’.
These issues are explored more in relation to food systems in three on-line talks on the open access Food Systems Academy (FSAc) website. In an overview talk, Peter briefly discusses property in general and its importance for how societies function before examining so-called ‘intellectual property rights’, which include patent, trademark and copyright laws. He reflects on their benefits and costs, their justifications and their impact on societies, including conferring the private power of taxation. Finally, he uses the example of copyright to amplify his arguments that we should be sceptical about having more of them and, indeed, would benefit from having less.
In his second talk on the FSAc, Peter outlines how concerted business lobbying inserted intellectual property into the global trade negotiations, which resulted in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) becoming part of the World Trade Organisation. He sketches out some implications of this on states’ ability to act on citizens behalf through regulating for food provisioning, health and environmental well-being. He uses the example of Australia’s tobacco plain packaging legislation to illustrate this.
In the other talk, Seeds of contention, control or diversity?, I discuss briefly the changing global rules on biodiversity, plant genetic resources and intellectual property and their impact on the future control of food. These are explored more fully in a book I co-edited with Tasmin Rajotte called The Future Control of Food – A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security, Earthscan, London, 2008. It is also free to download in English, Spanish and Chinese – click here for links.